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Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak

By Harriette McDougall

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882.
New York: E. & J. B. Young, 1882.

Chapter VII. The Lundus

The beginning of the year 1851 brought us much sorrow. After my illness in November, 1850, we were persuaded by Sir James Brooke to accompany him to Penang Hill, where the Government bungalow had been placed at his disposal; consequently, after Christmas, we sailed in H.M.S. Amazon, through the kindness of Captain Troubridge, for Singapore, taking our child Harry with us. We had to wait some weeks at Singapore for the Rajah, and soon after our arrival our little boy died of diptheria, leaving us childless, for we had already lost two infants at Sarawak. This grief threw a veil of sadness over the remaining years of our first sojourn in the East. Perhaps it urged us to a deeper interest in the native people than we might have felt had there been any little ones of our own to care for; but those six years "the flowers all died along our way," one infant after another being laid in God's acre.

[69] We stayed six weeks amid the lovely scenery and in the cooler air of Penang Hill, and returned to Sarawak in May, Admiral Austin giving us a passage in H.M.S. Fury. The admiral gave me his cabin to sleep in, all the gentlemen sleeping in the cuddy. I woke in the night, hearing a rushing sound in the air, then, patter, patter, all over the bed. I jumped up, and called Frank to bring a light and see what was the matter. "Oh," said a voice from the cuddy, "better not: it is only cockroaches, and if you saw them you would not go to sleep again." This swarm of cockroaches came out several times before daylight. The next night I put up a mosquito-net to protect my face and hands from these disgusting creatures. When a steamer has been nearly three years in these hot latitudes it becomes horribly full of rats and cockroaches. My husband, taking a trip in H.M.S. Contest, in 1858, woke one morning unable to open one eye. Presently he felt a sharp prick, and found a large cockroach sitting on his eyelid and biting the corner of his eye. They also bite all round the nails of your fingers and toes, unless they are closely covered. It must be said that insects are a great discomfort at Sarawak. Mosquitoes, and sand-flies, and stinging flies which turn your hands into the likeness of boxing-gloves, infest the banks of the rivers, and the sea-shore. Flying bugs sometimes scent the air unpleasantly, and there are hornets in the woods whose sting is dangerous. When we look back upon the happy [69/70] days we spent in that lovely country, these drawbacks are forgotten; the past is always beautiful, and shadows, even of sorrow and sickness, only enhance the interest of the picture. Sin alone, in ourselves and those about us, can make the past hateful, and the great charm of the future is that it is untouched by sin. Happy, then, are those who are able to look back on the past with smiles of thankfulness, while they stretch out their arms hopefully to the future.

Sarawak looked very peaceful on our return; and now began the interest of the Dyak missions. From our first arrival at Kuching my husband had taken every opportunity of visiting the Dyak tribes, and sometimes a chief would come to the town with a number of his people, to pay their rice tax, or purchase clothes, tobacco, gongs, gunpowder, whatever the bazaar possessed which they valued. They brought with them beeswax, damar, honey, or rattans to exchange for those things. On these occasions the whole party came up to the mission-house to hear the harmonium, see the magic-lantern, and beg presents. At first they would ask for arrack, but finding nothing but claret to be had with us, soon left off that request. Plates and cups were always valued, and they used to say we had so many more than we could possibly want in the pantry, that of course we would give them some. To their honour be it said, they never stole one, and were invariably refused, for we had not any more than we wanted. The Dyaks hung their [70/71] plates in loops of rattan very ingeniously against the walls of their houses; but a plantain-leaf folded up is more often used by them in lieu of plates, and they could not have a better substitute. I never enjoyed a meal so much as some cold rice and sardines eaten off a plantain-leaf in the jungle at Lundu, after a long walk to the waterfall. The servant with the provision basket had lost his way, and as we sat hungry under the great trees at the foot of the fall, a Dyak friend produced a box of sardines and a parcel of cold rice, and divided it amongst us. When at last the basket of cold chickens arrived we handed them over to the Dyaks, feeling quite superior to such civilized food.

The Lundu Dyak chief was a great friend and admirer of Sir James Brooke from his first arrival in the country. He and his tribe were the determined enemies of the pirates, and with the Balows of the Batang Lupar braved the Sarebas and Sakarrans, even when they were most powerful. At the pirate fight of 1849 the Lundu chief lost two of his sons: they were killed by an ambush set by Lingi the Sarebas chief. Only one son, Callon, remained, and he was not his father's favourite. Poor old Orang Kaya! it was a terrible trial, and nearly brought him to his grave. Some time afterwards, he and Callon were at Sarawak to pay their tax. Lingi, who had then submitted to the Rajah, had been in Sarawak for some days, professedly to trade, but really to see if he could not take Sir James Brooke's head. This was prevented by the watchfulness of [71/72] the Malays, who, suspecting Lingi, never let him get near the Rajah when they sat talking after dinner, as was the custom in those days. So Lingi went away foiled, and the day they dropped down the river the Lundus heard of it. Revenge seemed ready at hand: they had a fast boat, were a large party, and brave to a man. They entreated the Rajah to let them follow Lingi and take his head--never again would they take a head, only Lingi's, the Rajah's enemy and their own. Of course they were refused, and it must have been a terrible strain on their affection and fealty to the Rajah, not in this instance to follow the traditions of their ancestors, and gratify their personal revenge by killing a traitor. But they obeyed, and Lingi got safely back to Sarebas, little knowing how narrowly he escaped. The old Lundu chief was a Christian before he died. He always professed a desire to be of the same religion and brother to the white man, but when, after due instruction, his son and grandson came to Kuching to be baptized, he was not well enough to accompany them, Mr. Gomes promised to baptize him on their return; but when that event took place Orang Kaya was dead, gone where, no doubt, the will was taken for the deed, as he was a Christian at heart. Mr. Gomes was from Bishop's College, Calcutta. Soon after he came to us, in 1852, he went to Lundu and remained there until 1867, when his children requiring more education than he could give them at a Dyak station, he went to Singapore, and accepted the post of missionary priest there.

[73] Mr. Grant was Government resident at Lundu, and the ruler and missionary devoted themselves to the improvement of the people. In 1855, when we returned to our home after our first visit to England, we received a delightful visit from Mr. Gomes and twelve Dyaks, whom he brought to be baptized at St. Thomas's Church. Callon's son Langi, and half a dozen other boys, lived with Mr. Gomes, and ran after him all day--nice little fellows, who fraternized with our boys at the school-house. There were also five men, the chief of whom was Bulan (Moon), one of the manangs, or witch-doctors, of the tribe. These manangs, being as it were the priests of Dyak superstitions, and getting their living by pretended cures, interpretations of omens and the voices of birds, were of course the natural enemies of truth and enlightenment. Bulan, however, had tried to be an honest manang, and finding it impossible had turned with all his heart to Christianity. His brother Bugai, also a Christian, was a very intelligent person, and became catechist at Lundu.

There was also a very rich old man, Simoulin by name, who was baptized at this time. His wife had opposed his conversion with all her might; indeed, she declared she would leave him and carry half the property with her. Simoulin said quietly, "If she will she must: she is only a woman, and her judgment in the matter is not likely to be good." Christianity had strong opponents in the women of all the Dyak tribes. They held important [73/74] parts in all the feasts, incantations, and superstitions, which could not be called religion, but were based on the dread of evil spirits and a desire to propitiate them. The women encouraged head-taking by-preferring to marry the man who had some of those ghastly tokens of his prowess. When Sir James Brooke forbad head-taking among the tribes in his dominions, it was the women who would row their lovers out of the rivers in their boats, and set them down on the sea-coast to find the head of a stranger. When heads were brought in, it was the women who took possession of them, decked them with flowers, put food into their mouths, sang to them, mocked them, and instituted feasts in honour of the slayers. The young Dyak woman works hard; she helps in all the labours of sowing, planting out, weeding, and reaping the paddy. She beats out the rice in a wooden trough, with a long pole, or pestle. She grows the cotton for clothing, dyes and weaves it. She carries heavy burdens, and paddles her boat on the river. All these are her duties, and in performing them she quickly loses her smooth skin, bright eyes, and slender figure. It is only the young girls who can boast of any beauty, but the old women are very important personages at a seed-time or harvest festival. They dress themselves in long garments embroidered with tiny white shells, representing lizards and crocodiles. With long wands in their hands, they dance, singing wild incantations. They have already prepared the food for the feast--chickens [74/75] roasted in their feathers; cakes of rice, spun like vermicelli and fried in cocoa-nut oil; curries, and salads of bitter and acid leaves; sticks of small bamboo filled with pulut rice and boiled, when it turns to a jelly and is agreeably flavoured with the young bamboo. It is the women also who serve out the tuak, a spirit prepared from rice and spiced with various ingredients, tobacco being one. The men must drink at these feasts; they are very temperate generally, but on this occasion they are rather proud of being drunk and boasting the next day of a bad headache! The women urge them to drink, but do not join in the orgies, and disappear when the intoxicating stage begins. I trust that this description belongs only to the past; at any rate, we know that in those places where the missionaries have long taught, their people follow a more excellent way of rejoicing in the joy of harvest, and, after their thanksgiving service in church, pour out their offerings of rice before the altar to maintain the services, and minister to the sick and needy.

For many years, however, the women were opposed to a religion which cleared away the superstitious customs which were the delight of their lives, their chief amusement and dissipation, and a means of influencing the men. It was not until the year 1864 that Mr. Gomes asked us to visit Lundu and welcome a little party of women, the first converts to the faith which their fathers and husbands had long professed. This is a long [75/76] digression from the history of the Lundus' visit to Kuching in 1855, which was at the time a great event. I find the following passage in my journal: "Every evening, before late dinner, the Lundus go up to Mr. Gomes's room to say their prayers, and sing, or rather chant, their hymns. There is something very affecting in this little service--the Dyak voices singing of Christ's second coming with His holy angels, and rejoicing that He came once before for their salvation; then praying for holy, gentle hearts to receive Him. I always feel on these occasions as if I heard these precious truths afresh when they are spoken in a tongue till lately ignorant of them. Indeed, there can scarcely be a more joyful excitement than such passages in the life of a missionary; they are worth any sacrifice. After English morning service, Mr. Gomes has prayers in church for his Dyaks. He then instructs them in the baptismal service. This makes five daily services in church, two English, two Chinese, and one Dyak. We clothed all the candidates in a new suit of cotton garments with a bright-coloured handkerchief for their heads. It would be considered very irreverent for Easterns to uncover their heads in church. I taught the school-children to sing 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' at this baptism, while the clergy were arranging the candidates and sponsors round the font. The font was wreathed with flowers by my children. There was quite a full church, for the Chinese Christians all came to see the Dyaks baptized, and all the English of [76/77] the place were present. Mr. Gomes baptized, and my husband signed them with the cross. They all spoke up bravely in answering to their vows: may God give them grace to keep them."

This baptism took place on Whit Sunday. On Thursday of that week, Mr. Gomes, his Dyaks, and Frank, went off to Linga for a week to visit Mr. Chambers, and Mr. Horsburgh at Banting, that the converts of both tribes might become friends. The Balows and Lundus had always been united in their efforts against the pirate tribes, and in their fealty to the Rajah's Government. On this account they had a right to the services of the first missionaries who came from England to teach Dyaks. The visit to Banting had another object besides the mutual friendship of the converts. A controversy had arisen in the mission about the right word to be used in translations for Jesus. Isa is the name the Malays use, and the Dutch translations of the Bible employ this name; but there happened to be a bad Malay man owning the name of Isa, well known to the Balows, and Mr. Chambers feared some confusion would arise in the minds of converts in applying the same name to our Lord. It was therefore necessary to have a meeting of the clergy to decide this and many other religious terms to be used in hymns, catechisms, and in general teaching, that there might be unity in the mission: it would not do to have any divisions in the camp on such a subject. There are fifty miles of sea to cross from the [77/78] Sarawak River to the Batang Lupar, then a long pull from the fort at Linga up to Banting. The journey took three nights and two days.

The mission-house at Banting is most romantically placed on the crest of a hill overhanging the river about three hundred feet, and stands in a grove of beautiful fruit-trees. The view from it is enchanting. The river branches at the foot of the hill, and each branch seems to vie with the other in the tortuousness of its course through the bright green paddy-fields. About a mile off rises Mount Lesong with a graceful slope, about three thousand feet, and then terminates abruptly in a rugged top. [Lesong, mortar, being mortar-shaped.] The four clergymen who met at Banting looked almost as wild as their people--wide shady hats, long staffs, long beards, not a shirt among the party, and but one pair of shoes, belonging to my husband, who never could walk barefooted. They spent several days together, and had much consultation about religious terms. The most intelligent of the Dyak Christians were present, as it was necessary, not only to choose words they could understand, but such as they could easily pronounce. On Trinity Sunday there were several services in the large room of the house, for the church was not yet built. The Lingas sang their hymns with great energy to one of their own wild strains, but when they heard the Lundus' melodious chant they were ashamed to sing after them, and begged them to teach them. The Dyaks love [78/79] music and verse. Mr. Gomes and Mr. Chambers wrote them hymns, and the Creed in verse, which they readily commit to memory and understand better than prose. Pictures are also used in their instruction: a parable or miracle is read, then a picture of it produced and explained, the Dyaks repeating each sentence after the teacher, to keep their attention.

The baptized alone join in the Litany and Holy Communion. The afternoon was spent in visiting the sick and giving medicine. Several women came to the house for instruction, and seemed to take great interest in Mr. Chambers, teaching; but it was not until Mr. Chambers was married that any women were baptized. At breakfast the next morning came an old chief, called Tongkat Langit--the Staff of Heaven. His son Lingire was one of the most pleasing converts, and Tongkat was wavering--had not leisure at present! The necessity of forswearing the practise of head-taking deters the old men from becoming Christians: they fear to lose influence with their tribe. The little party then fixed upon the spot where the church should be built, a permanent bilian chancel to which a nave could be added when the additional room was required. Twenty-five pounds from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was all the money then in hand to begin with; but very soon more was collected, and when I visited Banting in 1857 there was a lovely little church standing on the hill overlooking the village, and surrounded by [79/80] beautiful trees. The walk to it from the mission-house was just like a gentleman's park, the green sward and groups of trees with lovely peeps of hill and valleys and winding streams between. Again in 1864 we went to Banting, that the Bishop might consecrate the church. The nave was then built. Every stick in the church was bilian. The white ants walked in as soon as the workmen left. In one night they carried their covered ways all over the inside of the roof, the walls, the beams, and rafters; and finding nothing they could bite, they walked out again, leaving their traces plainly marked. Since then a coloured-glass window, representing our Lord's Resurrection, has been added at the east end of the church; and, what is better far, the church is full of Dyak Christians every Sunday, and from this living Church many branches have been planted, so that the Banting Mission now includes seven stations, where there are school-churches built by the natives themselves, and many hundreds of Christian worshippers.

In 1854, six years having passed away since a little band of Sir James Brooke's friends founded the Borneo Church Mission, the funds of the Society came to an end; and the mission would have collapsed also, had not the venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts consented to become responsible for it. As the missionaries and catechists increased in number, and fresh stations were added to the church, they opened their arms wider to receive them, until they [80/81] set apart £3000 a year for Borneo. Under their fostering care the mission flourished, as it could not have done under the management of any private society.

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